Courting a pipe dream?

May 26, 1994

For a county that does not have a full-time economic development director, that has botched the construction of a small airplane manufacturing plant and that has virtually zero Class A office space, it is quite a stretch to think Carroll could land Alex. Brown & Sons Inc., the investment banking firm that has announced it wants to move from its 94-year-old headquarters in Baltimore.

These shortcomings, however, haven't prevented CommissionerDonald I. Dell from floating the idea that Carroll County could try to lure away the city's largest investment banking organization. He mentioned it at a meeting this week of local business people. We hope the rest of the county doesn't invest much time or energy in this quixotic quest.

That Mr. Dell would suggest courting Alex. Brown reveals the scattershot approach of the county's current economic development efforts. It also demonstrates that at least one top county official lacks even a rudimentary understanding of his county's own natural advantages and weaknesses as a place to do business and how to market the county to prospective businesses.

Carroll doesn't begin to possess the infrastructure needed to support a large corporate headquarters. Road, water and sewer systems would have to be upgraded. The county would have to upgrade its mass transit system so secretarial, clerical and custodial help could get to and from work. The county would have to work with utilities to significantly improve Carroll's electrical and telephone services. These costly projects are not done overnight and are usually done before rather than after the fact.

Moreover, where would the county place an office building that houses more than 1,000 employees? Does anyone really want a 10-story office tower in the center of Westminster? And if the county prefers a low-rise structure on a campus setting, where would this complex go?

Indeed, Carroll needs an aggressive economic development effort. But it also needs a well-conceived and comprehensive program that plays to the county's strengths -- its quality of life, its labor force, its affordable land. Rather than expend energy trying to lure a long-shot prospect such as Alex. Brown, Carroll officials should focus on the companies and businesses that make sense for this county and that it has a real chance of landing.

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